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Distributional Implications of Introducing a Broad-Based Consumption Tax

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  • William M. Gentry
  • R. Glenn Hubbard

Abstract

As a tax base, 'consumption' is sometimes argued to be less fair than 'income' because the benefits of not taxing capital income accrue to high-income households. We argue that, despite the common perception that consumption taxation eliminates all taxes on capital income, consumption and income taxes actually treat similarly much of what is commonly called capital income. Indeed, relative to an income tax, a consumption tax exempts only the tax on the opportunity cost of capital. In contrast to a pure income tax, a consumption tax replaces capital depreciation with capital expensing. This change eliminates the tax on the opportunity cost of capital, but does not change, relative to the income tax, the tax treatment of capital income arising from a risk premium, inframarginal profit, or luck. Because these components of capital income are more heavily skewed toward the top of the distribution of economic well-being, a consumption tax is more progressive than would be estimated under conventional distributional assumptions. We prepare distribution tables and demonstrate that this modification is quantitatively important.

Suggested Citation

  • William M. Gentry & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1996. "Distributional Implications of Introducing a Broad-Based Consumption Tax," NBER Working Papers 5832, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5832
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Berthold U. Wigger, 2004. "On the Intergenerational Incidence of Wage and Consumption Taxes," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 6(1), pages 1-23, February.
    2. Daniel R. Feenberg & Andrew W. Mitrusi & James M. Poterba, 1997. "Distributional Effects of Adopting a National Retail Sales Tax," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 11, pages 49-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Fullerton, Don & Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2002. "Tax incidence," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 26, pages 1787-1872 Elsevier.
    4. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2002. "The Impact of Social Security and Other Factors on the Distribution of Wealth," NBER Chapters,in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 85-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Javier Díaz-Giménez & Josep Pijoan-Mas, 2011. "Flat Tax Reforms: Investment Expensing and Progressivity," Working Papers wp2011_1101, CEMFI.
    6. Michael Keen, 1997. "Peculiar institutions: A British perspective on tax policy in the United States," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 18(4), pages 371-400, November.
    7. Cronin, Julie Anne & Lin, Emily Y. & Power, Laura & Cooper, Michael, 2013. "Distributing the Corporate Income Tax: Revised U.S. Treasury Methodology," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 66(1), pages 239-262, March.
    8. William M. Gentry & R. Glenn Hubbard, 2000. "Entrepreneurship and Household Saving," NBER Working Papers 7894, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Ventura, Gustavo, 1999. "Flat tax reform: A quantitative exploration," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 23(9-10), pages 1425-1458, September.
    10. Pablo Serra, 1998. "El Sistema Impositivo y su Efecto en el Funcionamiento de la Economía: Una Revisión de la Literatura," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 39, Central Bank of Chile.
    11. Pablo Serra, 2000. "Fundamentos para una Reforma Tributaria en Chile," Latin American Journal of Economics-formerly Cuadernos de Economía, Instituto de Economía. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile., vol. 37(111), pages 299-322.
    12. Gordon, Roger & Kalambokidis, Laura & Slemrod, Joel, 2004. "Do we now collect any revenue from taxing capital income?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(5), pages 981-1009, April.
    13. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Capital Levies and Transition to a Consumption Tax," NBER Working Papers 12259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. George R. Zodrow, 2007. "Should Capital Income be Subject to Consumption-Based Taxation?," Working Papers 0715, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation.
    15. Isabel Correia, 2010. "Consumption Taxes and Redistribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1673-1694, September.
    16. Alan D. Viard, 2000. "The transition to consumption taxation, part 1: the impact on existing capital," Economic and Financial Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, issue Q3, pages 2-22.
    17. Pablo Serra, 1998. "Evaluación del Sistema Tributario Chileno y Propuesta de Reforma," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 40, Central Bank of Chile.
    18. Pablo Serra & Daniel Hojman, 2000. "A Note on the Optimality of the Cash Flow Tax," Documentos de Trabajo 83, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
    19. David Altig, 2001. "Simulating Fundamental Tax Reform in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 574-595, June.

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    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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